You've got to ask yourself one question:
"Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?
--Dirty Harry (1971)
One argument from last week's Time for deploying more troops was,
This is a sound policy. If U.S. forces were not in Afghanistan, the Taliban, with its al-Qaeda allies in tow, would seize control of the country's south and east and might even take it over entirely. A senior Afghan politician told me that the Taliban would be in Kabul within 24 hours without the presence of international forces. This is not because the Taliban is so strong; generous estimates suggest it numbers no more than 20,000 fighters. It is because the Afghan government and the 90,000-man Afghan army are still so weak ("Two Arguments for What to Do in Afghanistan".)Assuming the Taliban has the capacity to take Kabul if U.S. forces were absent: If, after eight years of phony war the Taliban with their 20,000 fighters could defeat the 90,000-man strong Afghan Army + a larger national police force, then Ranger says -- let 'em.
The war in Afghanistan boils down to one significant question: Do we believe in freedom and self-determination, or don't we? Yes, the Taliban consists of repressive fundamentalists representing values that are repugnant to most U.S. sensibilities, but then again, our regional allies share many of these characteristic identifiers.
The number of Taliban fighters is estimated between 10-20,000, and depending on the news source the dirty nasty al-Qaeda and generic foreign fighters are also thrown in for good measure. But the unanswered question is: Where do 10-20,000 fighters get their munitions, rations, weapons, clothing, transportation, medical support and battlefield intelligence?
Being anti-government does not just happen. Contrary to the report that Afghans do not favor the Taliban, someone is supporting them. This is a fact that is conveniently omitted from our canned news coverage of the war.
If the Talibs have 10-20,000 fighters, this is merely the "tip of the spear." All fighting hierarchies show the same pyramidal scheme. The ratio of fighters to support is always skewed, with the support always outnumbering the fighters. In a counterinsurgency environment, the U.S. addresses this weakness by contracting out and using assigned troops outside of their military occupational specialties (MOS).
The anti-government forces do this by streamlining unit organization and multi-tasking. But for every Talib fighter there are at least 10 active supporters and 10-30 passive supporters. This is a fact seldom discussed: The Taliban have a solid base of support, and the U.S. military can't kill them all.
If the people desire the Taliban, then this is self-determination, and U.S. policy should not oppose this fact. If the Karzai government is a fiction that cannot stand on its own, then it has no legitimate right to exist.
COIN policy is deceitful when support for non-sustainable governments is presented to the American public as a War on Terror. Ranger lives in an alternate universe from the COINistas and the counterterrorism advocates. Neither al-Qaeda nor a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan have any significance when assessing U.S. national survival.
We Americans institutionally and personally believe that all problems can be fixed or overcome, but there are some that are insoluble. A can-do attitude does not change this fact.
Our problems are much closer to home.